This recap series has been dedicated to one thing, detailing the events leading up to last night’s episode. From the moment a television show takes off the conversation about the finale begins to dominate the headlines. We read into the subtext, the minutia, trying to glean any insight into what makes these people tick and where they’ll end up.
The finale of Mad Men, titled Person to Person, brought those answers to the forefront. Written and Directed by Matthew Weiner, it’s an episode that, in my opinion, will go down in history as a unique way to have your cake and eat it too. To show us the various characters endings without giving us too much.
Mad Men was always a series that forced you to read between the lines. To pick up on the subtle cues of the lead roles the way you’d pick apart an advertisement.
Last night’s episode began with Don hanging out with some race enthusiasts on the salt flats of Utah, working to break the land-speed record. But even going fast can’t keep Draper’s attention for too long. He quickly jumps into bed with a prostitute where you confirm the notion that very few people in this world are using you for anything besides your money.
Don is, essentially, this crew teams prostitute. Paying for their fee, gasoline, parts, and hotel rooms. It’s there Don chooses to call Sally and we get the first of three heart wrenching phone calls. Sally tells him Betty is dying and shows that she’s become an adult. Don then calls Betty and is forced to confront the life he’s left behind when she tells him the kids need a mother so they’re going to stay with her brother and sister-in-law.
Betty: “I want things for the kids to be as normal as possible. That means not having you around.”
Realizing Don Draper may be out of second chances we move into the Dick Whitman persona as Don visits Stephanie, the niece of Anna Draper and the formerly pregnant hippie girl who Megan was sure was carrying Don’s child. She wasn’t. We learn about her baby being taken by his father’s family, about her sorrow and loss at not being able to see him.
And then, in a twist only Mad Men can get away with…Don follows her to a therapy commune. No DB Cooper, no throwing yourself out a Manhattan window suicide, no complete character turn into a family man. Don Draper/Dick Whitman goes to therapy.
While this is going on we see Sally moves home to say goodbye to Betty, forgoing on her visit to Madrid to become an adult. Something she’s always wanted and now gets. Her future thrust upon her like a burden. Showing Gene how to cook for himself and deal with that fact their mother is dying.
On a brighter note we get to see Joan doing cocaine. I was terrified that this was the beginning of her downward spiral but wound up being a cheeky nod to the final image of the episode. Joan has come so far since episode one. She really was the backbone of every office she stepped into and that’s reflected in her lunch with Ken Cosgrove (who gave his eye for the series) where he basically sends her off on her journey to be a Producer.
Joan has to choose between life with a rich hubby – jetsetting across the globe – or opening her own business. Joan goes for the job. It seems she’s learned a lot from the Sterling/Cooper/Draper/Pryce model. Even some from Peggy.
In a touching final scene together Roger tells Joan he’s leaving his fortune to her son. He calls him a rich bastard. He’s right about it. He looks at Joan and sees a life he’s never going to have, and that’s okay with Roger. He has Megan’s mother who’s a match in wit as much as a match in the bedroom. Roger leaves and has the life Joan wanted. Joan stays and has the life Roger had. Everything comes full circle.
Meanwhile those rooting for a genuine kiss between Peggy and Stan got what they wanted in a very screwball comedy romance set of scenes where Peggy turns down Joan’s offer to work with her and instead decides to stick it out at McCann to become a big wig. Stan’s reminder to Peggy that there’s “more than work” out there echoes within her and they have an emotional phone conversation that thrusts them together in a passionate kiss.
Peggy deserves this, deserves the love that’s evaded her. For Peggy it came secondary to satisfaction with her career. It was missing but she needed Stan to tell her that’s why she was unhappy. Peggy became so busy with work that when Pete, the man who got her pregnant then abandoned her, says he’s leaving the office all that’s exchanged between the two is a literal cactus and a chuckle. It was fitting.
We leave Peggy with Stan rubbing her shoulders while they both work late. We leave Pete getting on a jet with Trudy and Tammy. Off to Kansas finally understanding what he’s wanted all along and not so far that he’s become Don.
What about Don?
After an intense group session Stephanie leaves therapy. Don, with no way out of the place Don calls the only person he can rely on. We’ve seen this before. When Don was up shit’s creek and needed bail, when he was stuck in the office during the phenomenal episode The Suitcase, and now, when Don Draper needs to hear the voice of reason. Peggy.
It’s been a decade since Don got Peggy out of the hospital for depression. Now it’s her turn to talk him down from the intimated suicide. Don is looking to say goodbye but all he can do is confess. 3000 miles between them and he needs an ear to tell him everything will be okay. Peggy’s advice? Come back. Get back to work. Be Don Draper. He’s not that bad.
Don breaks down crying. We grip our couch arms. He’s sullen, gone. A man without direction. Don’s dragged to group therapy and treated to several case studies that are not-so-subtle metaphors about his life. Stories about mothers who leave children and a corporate automaton who just want a hug. So Don hugs the guy. They both break down crying and we assume Don has finally figured out happiness.
A montage delivers the fates of the characters mentioned before. Sally washing dishes as Betty smokes her last days away. Joan with her own secretary booking commercials. Peggy getting her back rub, Roger getting his champagne, Pete on his jet.
Don’s final shot is sitting in a yoga position. Doing his chants while a bell is rung. He smiles, and for a moment of bliss we’re sure he’s found the inner peace he’s chased his entire life. The peace we’ve yearned for and know he needs. A coy smile shows maybe it’s there.
Nope. We hard cut to the most famous commercial campaign of all time. “I’d Like to Buy The World a Coke.” It stars a suspiciously familiar girl in braids and is shot in a serene California place that looks a lot like Don’s serenity retreat.
Don Draper made his life selling emotions – Love, Hope, Confidence – it’s fitting that his send off is the idea of selling happiness in the form of a beverage responsible for obesity and diabetes. In the end the moral, for me, is being happy with who you are. Don Draper is a Madison Avenue Ad Man.
Let the debates begin. The Era is over. What else is on?